Guide by Your Side: What Makes a Good Extension Educator Good?

In my Social Sustainability on the Farm project, we’ve been looking at the social issues farmers face; so I have been thinking about healthy farmer relationships—both personal and professional. And since I work for UVM Extension, naturally I wonder about our connections with farmers; how can we, in Extension, be most helpful to farmers and the public at large? What’s our role(s)? And, what makes a good Extension educator good?

Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension Outreach Agronomy Professional

Kirsten Workman, UVM Extension Outreach Agronomy Professional

An interview with colleague and fellow WAgN blogger Kirsten Workman provided some answers. Kirsten is an Outreach Agronomy Professional with the Champlain Valley Crops, Soil & Pasture Team housed in Middlebury. As one of our newest “movers and shakers” in Extension, it was fun to learn how excited Kirsten is to be an Extension educator and how she views her work in the agricultural community.

Kirsten uses terms like “convener,” “interpreter,” and “ombudsperson” to describe her role. Like most in Extension, she conducts on-farm demonstrations, field research, workshops and other educational events. But it is fostering the connections with and among farmers that makes her job most meaningful. She talks about the value of bringing folks to the table and figuring things out together. She points out the importance of meeting farmers where they are–both physically and educationally–and addressing their questions without judgement.

“One of the key things about my job is understanding where people are coming from,” she said. “As a former farmer myself, I really respect what farmers do on a day-to-day basis. It is not easy to farm in this challenging climate, and so I approach each farm–from the 5 acre vegetable operation to the LFO [large farm operation]–by thinking about how can I be most helpful to them where they are at right now. For one farm, that might mean helping them fill out some paperwork; for another, it might be exploring how a certain cover crop performs in their soils.”

Meeting farmers where they are. On a cold & rainy November day, Kirsten leads a field day demonstrating cover crops in silage corn acreage.

Meeting farmers where they are. On a cold & rainy November day, Kirsten leads a field day featuring her cover crop variety trials in silage corn acreage.

Kirsten’s “guide by your side” approach differs from the traditional “sage on stage” expert-driven model. And academics who’ve studied Extension educational delivery methods contend that Kirsten’s approach is key to effective work. One research team led by Iowa State University’s Nancy Franz  suggests that “…Agricultural educators must understand farmers’ needs and struggles and design programs to address them.” They say that Extension educators “…need to not only be experts in a particular subject matter but also be architects of relationships, learning processes, and environments that directly meet farmers’ needs to catalyze transformative learning.”

Whether you prefer the term “architect of relationships” or “an advocate for farmers and advocate to farmers” as Kirsten does, it seems clear that what makes a good Extension educator good is the building of trusting relationships with and among farmers and the greater community.

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Best Marketing Practices for the Holidays

The best marketing practices for the holidays is to follow Stephen Covey’s advice about the 7 habits of effective people: “Start with the end in mind.” Your “end” is to get more customers and make more profits.

GingerMyersImageEditor’s note: This week WAGN’s blog features a post from guest blogger Ginger Myers, Marketing Specialist, University of Maryland Extension. Read on for Myers’ tips on how your farm or food business can ramp up marketing and boost holiday sales.

The holiday season is the most important shopping time of the year. In 2014, $81.1 billion were spent on holiday shopping. That’s 17% of annual retail sales in just two months. For many direct marketers, ramping up for the holiday season starts with fall events. But there’s still time to capture a greater share of the winter holiday season.

Here’s how to get a slice of the pie.

  • Start planning your main campaign right now so you’re ready to launch well before Black Friday. By doing so, you’ll be able to take advantage of last-minute marketing opportunities.
  • Analyze your inventory. Take a good look at all the products and services you pickles_displayprovide. Are there any offerings that would be more useful at certain times of the year or around certain holidays? Organize all your products into specific groups according to their usefulness or tie-ins with specific dates.
  • Buy a large desk calendar with lots of room for writing. Take a colored pen and highlight all the upcoming holidays and any other special events or season you want to plan for in the upcoming months. Decide on target dates when you’d like to get an offer out to your current customer list or start a new marketing effort or promotion. Instead of promoting your items a week ahead of a certain holiday or event, you can begin a starter campaign two months before an event and escalate your efforts as a specific day draws near.
  • Repetition sells, so market often. Send multiple emails or holiday cards announcing your sales.
  • Concentrate on marketing your niche products to a highly targeted audience.wreath
  • Host a holiday season kick-off event to bring customers in, such as a tree-lighting ceremony with hot chocolate and a visit from Santa–and make sure customers leave with your holiday catalog.
  • Use email, social media and your website to let customers know about your upcoming deals.
  • Feature your upcoming holiday specials on your blog and reinforce the reasons its better to buy from you.
  • Partner with a restaurant to print table tents that promote your company to their customers
  • Make sure all your holiday marketing is measurable so you can track your return on investment and plan for an even more profitable campaign next year. Record what is working for your business and what is not. Mistakes can help better channel your choices for your marketing resources.

About thExtension_slogan_color_0e author: Ginger holds a B.S. from Penn State University, additional certifications in agricultural economic development, and serves on a wide variety of committees and organizations including: the Maryland State Agriculture Commission, Maryland’s Agricultural Marketing Professionals, and is an officer with Future Harvest- a Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. She has over 25 years of experience in agri-business and small farm production. She has worked as an agricultural marketing specialist in Maryland since 1999. 

This article was adapted from an article that original appeared in the fall 2014 edition of the University of Maryland Extension’s Ag Marketing Newsletter.




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Mary Peabody Begins Sabbatical Adventures

For the next year, beginning October 1, 2014, WAgN Director Mary Peabody will be stepping back from day-to-day program delivery and management to focus more deeply on the areas of direct marketing and labor management as they impact small and medium-sized farms.

Mary Peabody

Women’s Agricultural Network Director Mary Peabody

“Specifically, I will be working on some new decision-making tools farmers can use to determine their optimal market mix and labor needs to attain their business goals,” she says. “One of the activities I’m looking forward to is the opportunity to talk with consumers about how their purchasing decisions have changed over time, the role of social media in their decision making, and what attributes of locally produced ag products are important to them.”

This year of study starts with the opportunity to attend the 2014 Slow Food Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy. This biennial event draws individuals from all over the world who are passionate about good, clean and fair food for the world’s largest food and wine fair, Salone del Gusto, and the concurrent world meeting of food communities, Terra Madre.

produce“Those that know my passion for farmers’ markets can probably guess how excited I am about this opportunity,” Mary says. 

If you’d like to follow Mary’s adventures in the coming year, keep an eye on her blog. She’ll also also be posting on WAgN’s social media sites.

“Having the gift of a year to focus on these areas of interest is a wonderful benefit of my work and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity,” Mary says. “But sabbaticals do leave holes that need to be filled. My leave would not happen without all of my fabulous UVM Extension co-workers, starting with Beth Holtzman and Heidi Krantz, who will be picking up many of my responsibilities during my absence.”

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